Helisch et al., 2020, Space Research

January 24, 2020 / Arnd Heyer

High density long-term cultivation of Chlorella vulgaris SAG 211-12 in a novel microgravity-capable membrane raceway photobioreactor for future bioregenerative life support in SPACE

Hybrid life support systems are of great interest for future far-distant space exploration missions to planetary surfaces, e.g. Mars, planned until 2050. By synergistically combining physicochemical and biotechnological algae-based subsystems, an essential step towards the closure of the carbon loop in environmental control and life support systems (ECLSS) shall be accomplished, offering a wide beneficial potential for ECLSS through the utilization of oxygenic photosynthesis: O2 and potential human food can be formed in-situ from CO2 and water. The wild type green alga Chlorella vulgaris strain SAG 211-12 was selected as model microorganism due to its photoautotrophic growth, high biomass yield, cultivation flexibility and long-term cultivation robustness. The current study presents for the first time a stable xenic long-term processing of microalgae in a novel microgravity capable membrane raceway photobioreactor for 188 days with the focus on algal growth kinetics and gas evolution. In particular, culture homogeneity and viability were monitored and evaluated during the whole cultivation process due to their putative crucial impact on long-term functionality and efficiency of a closed cultivation system. Based on a specially designed cyclic batch cultivation process for SAG 211-12, a successive biomass growth up to a maximum of 12.2 g l−1 with a max. global volumetric productivity of 1.3 g l−1 d−1 was reached within the closed loop system. The photosynthetic capacity was assessed to a global molar photo- synthetic quotient of 0.31. Furthermore, cultivation parameters for a change from batch to continuous proces- sing at high biomass densities and proliferation rates are introduced. The presented μgPBR miniature plant and the developed high throughput cultivation process are planned to be tested under real space conditions within the PBR@LSR project (microgravity and cosmic radiation) aboard the International Space Station with an operation period of up to 180 days to investigate the impact on long-term system stability.

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